Monday, June 27, 2005

Summer solstice

I've been gone for a week, to San Francisco and its environs. L and I went to visit some friends out there and we had a great time in the city, Napa, Yosemite. The big thing, though, is that while we were there we got engaged - I asked her to marry me and she said yes, so now that's where we stand: affianced and loving it.

Even writing the words down is odd - the formality of the language of engagements and proposals and marriages. This whole process has made me feel very old and very young all at once: old enough to envisage my life, in all of its turns and twists until my death, in the company of another, old enough to consider joint checking accounts and naming children and caring for in-laws; and young enough to dive into this venture with optimism and maybe some naivete about what a life-long partnership entails, young enough to be brave enough to even try. But now that it's done I am much happier with the word 'fiancee' than I was with 'girlfriend,' and the prospect of living my life with this woman makes me joyful on a profound level. Before we used to talk about marriage and weddings in a painfully abstract and distanced way: "when I become engaged to someone," "when I have taken a bride," "when I have the occasion to plan a wedding." The relief - the relief! the gratitude! - to talk about our wedding, our life, our children. They will be good-looking, smart, dark-haired. Perhaps even athletic.

I bought the ring a couple weeks ago, through an amusingly blog-worthy process that I couldn't even discuss back then. Since I bought the ring I've been playing with it and admiring it almost nightly - infusing it with love and my touch, listening to the most romantic music I have (Jill Scott, Coldplay, Ginuwine, Stevie W) and blessing the ring with it. I knew the day I would propose on this trip - Tuesday, June 21, the summer solstice, when we were going to do a 17-mile hike up Half-Dome in Yosemite.

The night before we were staying at the Little Valley Inn, in Mariposa, 40 miles beyond Yosemite. We meant to go to bed early in order to wake up at 4:30 and drive into the park. I couldn't sleep, though, tense with anticipation, not even doubting my plans but enduring a rush of butterflies all the same. I couldn't stray too far from the bathroom, either. I lulled myself to sleep thinking about my friends and family, imagining telling them and enjoying their reactions. On the hike I wasn't sure when I would ask the question, but about a quarter of the way in we found ourselves eating breakfast on some shady rocks atop the breathtaking Nevada Falls. There were few people around, mostly a very aggressive breed of fat and short-tailed squirrel, as well as a smattering or curious blue birds who were not shy about mugging for some spare trail mix.

Asking the question reminded me of improv, and of how it felt to decide to kiss a girl in high school. Once the course of action was set, there was no turning back, only commitment. As we got up to leave I said, hold on, and pivoted onto one knee as L stood before. There were about eight points that I wanted to cover as I spoke, points dealing with: our love, our potential family, what she means to me, the hike as metaphor, etc. I remembered maybe three of them. She was shaking and turning a little bit red, so I held her steady as I talked. I was very aware of the situation and felt surprisingly detached. Finally, with lots of hems and haws, I finished my opening statement and asked the questions. She said yes and I showed her the ring and slid it on her finger, and she loved it. We got up and the squirrels scattered. Someone took our picture and then we kept moving up the mountain - there was a long ways to go yet.

A long ways to go but we were floating. Before I left for the trip I felt like Moses leaving to climb the mountain to receive the ten commandments. I was aware of the trip as an important hinge in my life - I was on a pilgrimage where things would change in a profound way. Now I have returned, yoked to this woman for the rest of time, and it brings me nothing but joy and love and gratitude. I am a changed man now, and I think for the better.

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